Islamabad, the Taliban and the need for stability
For expert Muhammad Amir Rana, Pakistan's primary goals are “protection from potential attacks by Delhi” and encouraging Chinese “infrastructure projects”. To this end, the government of Imran Khan is seeking a deal with the TTP, but recent negotiations will lead nowhere. From July to mid-September, 55 attacks against Pakistani security forces were recorded with at least 149 deaths.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan a few days ago told Turkish state-affiliated broadcaster TRT World that the United States will “sooner or later” have to recognise the Taliban government.
This follows previous statements to CNN in which the Pakistani leader declared that the way to peace in the region passes through dialogue with the Taliban.
A few days ago, Pakistani authorities signed a ceasefire agreement with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistan’ Taliban.
The deal comes after Pakistan President Arif Alvi and Foreign Ministry Shah Mahmood Qureshi promised in mid-September amnesty to terrorists who lay down their arms and give up extremist ideology to create an emirate in Pakistan.
For Muhammad Amir Rana, director of independent think tank Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), “The Pakistani government's vision is too optimistic.”
“Direct negotiations between TTP groups and government representatives are taking place,” he told AsiaNews.
“But Imran Khan's vision is simplistic; the government thinks that offering the Taliban a place in government there will be pacification, but this strategy has already failed in the past.”
“Even civil society is against the negotiations because it sees it as an insult to all the people who lost their lives in attacks,” the expert said.
Prime Minister Khan asked the Pakistani Taliban to lay down their weapons, but after his interview with TRT, the group urged its fighters to continue their attacks. Their goal is to implement Sharia and free their prisoners.
From July to mid-September, PIPS recorded 55 attacks against Pakistani security forces. In the previous six months, the TTP had claimed 53.
In September alone, 149 members of the police were killed in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan but, Rana notes that “in the negotiations there was no involvement of security experts or military officials operating in those areas”.
Created out of the merger of armed tribal grips in December 2007, most of the TTP fled to Afghanistan in 2014 after a violent government crackdown.
“Imran Khan thinks that the TTP are just a bunch of religious movements, when in fact they have multiple connections with their Afghan cousins: not only ideological, but also ethnic, tribal and historical," the researcher explained.
“And now the TTP have political aspirations regarding the tribal areas on the border,” which is porous, seen by the Taliban as a temporary dividing line.
"The Durand line was drawn to divide Afghanistan from British India, but several extremist groups, including the TTP, do not recognise it," PIPS director explained.
"With peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan hopes to make this border permanent through negotiations. There is some tepid optimism, but it will be hard to do.”
The 11 September attacks were planned in the area, which the Pashtuns consider part of their territory. It is here that the TTP wants to set up another emirate after Afghanistan’s.
The Pakistani government fears instability for another reason: India.
For Rana, who authored several books on terrorism, “The long-term strategy has always been to seek protection from potential attacks by Delhi. Pakistan is afraid that India will hit the country from behind and for this purpose it will foment separatist groups.”
“Pakistan is therefore trying to secure its borders. In Imran Khan's view, a stable government in Afghanistan would minimize Indian interference.
Thus, although he “may not ideologically support the new government in Kabul, he wants the Taliban to consolidate their power to safeguard his strategic interests. In this context, paradoxically, the TTP are seen as the lesser evil.”
At the same time, Pakistan wants stability to foster "transnational infrastructure projects in the region" by attracting foreign investment, especially Chinese.
Both Islamabad and Beijing hold the TTP responsible for an attack in Kohistan district in which nine Chinese engineers working on a hydroelectric project were killed.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a set of infrastructure projects that began in 2013 worth US billion.
“China does not want to intervene directly, and is seeking minimum stability to continue business.”
Imran Khan hopes that playing a political role in the region will also have an economic payoff, which Islamabad desperately needs. But “it may not turn out that way,” Rana added.